The weaving of Guatemala

October 21, 2009 • 2:06 pm

When I say that Guatemala is a colorful country, I mean that literally. The descendants of the Maya pride themselves on their weaving, and the women turn out in the most elaborate and wonderful clothes.  I am not at all an expert on this topic, but thought I’d post some of my pictures here, accompanied by what little I know about the weaving.

First: what it’s like in a real Guatemalan market.  This is market day in the town of Solola, near the town of Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan.  “Pana” is touristy, but the market is not, probably because it sells basics for locals rather than trinkets. In my several hours in the Friday market (the locals always wear their finest on market day), I saw not one other tourist.  (Click on the photos to see detail of the clothes.)Market Solola

Traditionally each village had its own design of women’s blouse (the huipil), so you could instantly identify her residence from her clothes.  This appears to be disappearing.  The three women below sport different designs, but I have no idea if they’re from the same place:

Women Solola

These women, however, are wearing the traditional huipil of Solola:

Women 2 solola192

The men of Solola are unusual in still retaining woven rather than European-derived clothes, although the style clearly comes from ladinos.  These are the famous “space cowboy” clothes (also called “bat suits”) of males from the village. The apron is Mayan:

Men, solola

Man front 90

It’s clear from Mayan drawings that weaving of colored cotton clothes has been a going concern for over a thousand years. And the method of weaving has remained largely identical.  Women weave their squarish tops, or huipiles, on a backstrap loom, a small portable loom that’s fastened around the waist. Here’s a photo of one (not my picture):


Traditionally, each woman wove her own outfit, although this tradition is disappearing.  The huipil is often complemented by a head-cloth (also woven on the backstrap) and by a tie-dyed skirt (this technique was independently invented in India and Indonesia). Tie-dyed items are woven by men on the more recently invented treadle loom.  Note that since many weavers cannot read (a situation that is changing), all of these patterns are passed on by learning, and are kept in the head.  There are no written instructions!

Loom 1

Loom 2


Here are some huipiles I photographed in private homes and in the Ixil Textile Museum in Guatemala City:

Huipil flower

Huipil flowered

Huipil geometric

This geometric design, with animals, is my favorite; it comes from the regions of Guatemala where the language Ixil is spoken:

Ixil huipil

One way to display your collection:


Some details.  The flowery design is perhaps the most famous in Guatemala, and comes from the village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, near Antigua:

detail 21


And in case you’d like to buy a weaving, you’ll need a lot of time to choose your style and bargain for it.  Here’s one stall in the Antigua market.  Prices are reasonable: huipiles start at about eighteen dollars (150 quetzales), and go way high, especially for older designs and those made with silk or natural dyes.  Considering the time taken to create these garments, that’s a real bargain.

Market Antigua

The weavings of Guatemala, and the hospitable people who wear them,  are two of the many attractive things about the country.  In the next couple of days I’ll describe the biology and the landscape.

9 thoughts on “The weaving of Guatemala

  1. I would love to go there and see the markets. My wife would shop for days.

    I admire what is left of Mayan culture but have seen very little of it and only in Mexico.

  2. I notice you photographed most of the people from behind. I wonder if you’re as reluctant as I am just to walk through a market taking candid people shots.

  3. Wow! Some really fabulous craftsmanship. I particularly like the traditional huipil of Solola. The pic of the stall at the market in Antigua also has several pieces in it that I think are just gorgeous.

    Thank you for posting high res pics.

    Many of the patterns would, I think, be fantistic for high end modern clothing even (i.e. not just “traditional” clothing). I know that my wife, who is a graduate of FIDM, would love to have some of these materials to work with.

  4. That’s amazing how the patterns of the different cities are interwinding! Beautiful! I’m so lucky to have one my mother gave me from Quetzaltenang

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